Media and Music—Soft Power Diplomacy

World Affairs Dinner Lecture

Title:  Media and Music…American Popular Culture as Global Soft Power:  Prescriptions and Provocations

Presenter:  Neal Rosendorf, PhD

Cash Bar:  5:00 p.m., Dinner:  6:30 p.m.

Location:  Santa Fe Hilton, 100 Sandoval Street

Cost:  $30 Members; $38 Non-members/Guests

RESERVATION DEADLINE:  Noon, Monday, April 20

Can we reboot America’s international image?  President Obama has through word and deed already demonstrated a keen awareness of the need to reassert American “soft power,” the power of attraction and co-optation, ideas and ideals.

Cultural diplomacy must be a significant element of a comprehensive program to retool American foreign policy and thereby repair America’s global reputation.  The US needs to revive, adapt and expand cultural diplomacy programs that have worked in the past and can be effective today, and to devise bold new approaches to meet the challenges unique to the current foreign relations environment.  American popular culture—especially film, television and music—is a key element of US soft power, and a cultural diplomacy program should factor it into a cultural diplomacy strategy.  As that great authority on the subject, Josef Stalin, once noted, “If I could control the medium of the American motion picture, I would need nothing else to convert the entire world to communism.”

But the entertainment media are private enterprises, and the US has no ministry of culture; so there will be limits on what policy formulators can do to harness them for the sake of outreach.  To a great extent, Washington will have to let the media work their soft power magic on their own, and accept a percentage of negative messages and images along with the many positive ones.

Another element of American pop culture that policy formulators will have to deal with is that it is possible for other nations to seek to utilize this culture for their own purposes, both domestically and internationally—even toward the US.  The most dramatic historical example is Franco Spain’s partnership with Hollywood in the 1950s-60s, resulting in movies like El Cid, which sang the praises of Spain, and implicitly of dictator Francisco Franco, for audiences around the world.  Today, countries like China, India and Russia, have a similar opportunity before them, if they choose to grasp it.  But authoritarian regimes should beware that partnering up with American pop culture can erode control in the long term even as it provides soft power benefits in the short term.  Even after the Bush 43 administration, even with globalization and the rise of the East, the US is still predominant when it comes to soft power and the tools for effective cultural diplomacy.

About Dr. Rosendorf:  Recently relocated with his family to Santa Fe, Neal Rosendorf is a Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy.  He has taught at Long Island University, the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; and he has been a researcher/oral historian with the Columbia Oral History Research Office’s project on the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dr. Rosendorf is an historian of U.S. foreign relations, international relations and globalization.  Since earning his Ph.D. at Harvard in 2000, he has been writing, lecturing and consulting in the US and internationally on subjects related to media, culture and international relations.  In 2007-08, he served as a member of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s presidential campaign advisory group on foreign policy, with a focus on public/cultural diplomacy.[wpsf_product prodid=”54″]